Looking at the Past...
As the world moves towards increasingly borderless, globalised structures, interest in conducting surveys of the global production of artwork is on the rise. These surveys occur not only in emerging centres such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which seek to establish themselves as influential platforms in the contemporary art world, but also regions traditionally considered centres of the art world- London, Paris, New York might spring to mind. Often, for an art exhibition to be held outside of the territory of where it was produced, links between the site of production and site of display are sought- much as in the case of Past, an exhibition of contemporary Malaysian and British art, held at the Battersea Power Station in London from January 18-February 11 2018.
Organised by London based gallery Artsea Contemporary, Past explores current artistic practice across two capital cities: London and Kuala Lumpur. Through the practice of six contemporary artists, Ahmad Shukri, Azad Daniel, Haafiz Shahimi, Jakob Rowlinson, Larry Amponsah and Masnoor Ramli, who live and work in either city, the relationship between contemporary artistic practice and considerations of the past are considered, along with possible challenges in creating discourse around individual national histories within the framework of an increasingly globalised world. The individual methodologies, areas of interest and mediums range from site specific performance to photography, print and collage, in a demonstration of ways in which questions of history and how it may be brought into contemporary consciousness are handled. Thus, not only do the artworks presented in Past resonate with deeply personal reflections, they add to the expansion of the scope through which these critical questions might find life.
The choice of exhibition site, Battersea Power Station, is apt when considering notions of historicity and the transnational. A decommissioned power station, this Grade II building has long been a fixture on the London skyline, used as a landmark and referenced in pop culture. Thus, as an object, it is rooted in history; yet by being developed into a multi-use development its very fabric is transforming into a contemporary object, altering its use and understanding. Additionally, the historically close links between Malaysia and the United Kingdom, politically, economically, socially, is embedded within the very fabric of the site itself, which is being used as a platform from which broader audiences will be introduced to dynamic current artistic practices as well as the transnational nature of the art world today.
Commenting on the preservation of historical spaces through a series of mixed media paintings, Ahmad Shukri contrasts the heritage site of Battersea Power Station against the changing landscape around his artist studio in Setia Alam, Kuala Lumpur. A founding member of the MATAHATI collective, Shukri turns to creating visual journals in the form of artworks, which layer colour, image, medium so as to capture an elusive atmosphere with Symphony Orchestra I-III. Manoor Ramli, who co-founded MATAHATI, has created a series of socio-political photographic prints presented in his signature dreamy visuals. In a departure from the raw aluminium sheets he typically uses as a base for print work, Masnoor instead turns to photographic paper, while incorporating wayang kulit figures as a way to reflect on historical forms of story-telling in the Nusantara region. Ideas of storytelling re appear in the works of British artist Jakob Rowlinson, who leads audiences on a walk through the Battersea Power Station, accompanied by a commentary prompted by a series of randomised notecards that avoid the linear based arguments lectures typically favour. Peppered with witty, often theatrical, asides, Rowlinson’s Performance Lectures thus challenges the boundaries delineating fact and fiction, encouraging audiences to engage with the exhibition site and its history through a new lens.
His Excellency Datuk Ahmad Rasidi bin Hazizi, Malaysian High Commissioner to London, officiating the launch of "Past", January 18th 2018
"Tale of the Be(LIE)vers", (2017), Masnoor Ramli (Detail)
"Tale of the Be(LIE)vers", (2017), Masnoor Ramli (Detail)
"Performative Lecture", (2017) Jakob Rowlinson
An archival impulse which builds on the ways history in known in the present emerges in the experimental rubber sheets Azad Daniel produces, which act as a visual documentation for Malayan heritage pattern and text. Given the transformations to the social and physical landscapes around him, Azad feels an urgency in preserving historical information in accessible, visual formats, contributing to an understanding of where we come from, who we are today and which directions the future might take. Excitingly, these works are a departure from the super slick auto-paint works he is known for, demonstrating a real versatility to his practice. The archive itself is investigated by Larry Amponsah, who unearthed photographs from museum archives as a starting point for his experimental collage paintings. Turning to the role of the past within the present, Haafiz Shahimi unpicks the roots of Malay myths through a set of print works made using pyrographic techniques. Conscious of his identity as a Malay artist within an international art ecology, Haafiz seeks to uncover the elements identifying him as an individual yet situating his practice within wider critical contexts. In achieving this, he grounds his works in metaphysical, studying not only the development of myths through (possible) historical events, but also changing attitudes to mythologies, which, in contemporary times, are taking on an increasing sense of distance from the belief systems of the cultures they originate from.
Resuscitation of Kalaam 6, (2017), Haafiz Shahimi
"Everything and Nothing At All" (2017), Larry Amponsah
"Tales from the Rainforest- Pak Belang" (2017), Azad Daniel
The curatorial intent of Past ties in with the character of the site where it presented, by merging history with the now. Choosing to exhibiting artists at different stages of their careers, established, mid-career, emerging, and from vastly separated geographical locations alongside one another was deliberate, as a means to instigate discourse on the threads of similarity running through several, seemingly disparate, artistic practices. As such the exhibition speaks not only to the artists themselves, or to the places in which they live and work, but also the increasingly borderless nature of a transnational contemporary art world.
‘Past’ is curated by Zena Khan and presented by Artsea Contemporary. The exhibition runs from January 18th-February 11th at Pop Ups, Circus West Village, Battersea Power Station, London SW8 4NN. More information can be found on artseagroup.com.
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